Pulsed electric field has been widely used as a non-viral gene delivery platform. The delivery efficiency can be improved through quantitative analysis of pore dynamics and intracellular transport of plasmid DNA. To this end, we investigated mechanisms of cellular uptake of macromolecules during electroporation. In the study, fluorescein isothiocyanate-labeled dextran (FD) with molecular weight of 4,000 (FD-4) or 2,000,000 (FD-2000) was added into suspensions of a murine mammary carcinoma cell (4T1) either before or at different time points (i.e., 1, 2, or 10 sec) after the application of a variety of pulsed electric fields (in high voltage mode: 1.2–2.0 kV in amplitude, 99 μsec in duration, and 1–5 pulses; in low voltage mode: 100–300 V in amplitude, 5–20 msec in duration, and 1–5 pulses). The intracellular concentrations of FDs were quantified, using a confocal microscopy technique. To understand transport mechanisms, a mathematical model was developed for numerical simulation of cellular uptake. We observed that the maximum intracellular concentration of FD-2000 was less than 3% of that in the pulsing medium. The intracellular concentrations increased linearly with pulse number and amplitude. In addition, the intracellular concentration of FD-2000 was ~40% lower than that of FD-4 under identical pulsing conditions. The numerical simulations predicted that the pores larger than FD-4 should last <10 msec after the application of pulsed fields if the simulated concentrations were on the same order of magnitude as the experimental data. In addition, the simulation results indicated that diffusion was negligible for cellular uptake of FD molecules. Taken together, the data suggested that large pores induced in the membrane by pulsed electric fields disappeared rapidly after pulse application and convection was likely to be the dominant mode of transport for cellular uptake of macromolecules.
Keywords: electroporation, gene delivery, diffusion